How To Talk With Your Spouse About The Things You Don’t Want To Talk About

It’s true. There are some conversations you’d rather not have.

Woman With Brown Box On Her Head - IsolatedLike the one about the credit card or your mother-in-law or how you hardly ever have sex.

Maybe you need to talk about quitting your job or having another baby, or how you lie awake worrying that your marriage is in trouble, or that you never have fun. Maybe you think your partner is having an affair.

And the very idea of bringing it up fills you with dread.

Maybe tomorrow, you say. Maybe next week.

Then again, maybe not.

For most couples, difficult conversations start badly and go downhill from there.

Why not start smart?

Before you utter your first word, set yourself up for success.

Most up of us set ourselves up for failure by coming to the table with our worst behaviors and being utterly shocked when things go south.

Instead, come prepared with a strategy to keep your counter-productive moves in check.

If you tend to interrupt, make a commitment to do more listening. If you cross-examine rather than question, bring curiosity. If your habit is to stonewall or to go on the attack, make a decision to (even just a little bit) let down your guard.

Don’t expect to feel calm.

If you’re waiting to attain some Zen-like state before you sit down to talk, chances are you’ll be waiting forever. Especially if the issue is super-charged and there’s a lot on the line.

Easy for me to say, but that knot in your stomach… it’s not that big a deal. Neither is your racing heart or your overwhelming urge to run from the room. The anxiety you feel is simply your body’s way of telling you that you’re heading into rough waters.

Rather than make a mad dash from your anxiety or expect to “chill-out,” recognize that you’re anxious and boldly step forward anyway.

Remember: taking up permanent residence in your comfort zone is a sure-fire way to stay stuck.

There is no perfect time to have a difficult conversation.Tuesday Target

If you’re thinking that 3 o’clock will be easier than 4 o’clock or that Sunday is inherently better than Friday, it isn’t.

There are certainly times that are less than ideal, like Monday morning before work, or when you’re on your way to a dinner party.

Other than avoiding the obviously bad times, pick a time and then stick with it.

A conversation of a thousand words begins with the first sentence.

Some difficult conversations can be gotten through in one sitting and some cannot. Sometimes the first conversation merely sets the issues out on the table.

From there, you may need to take it one small bite at a time.

Trouble spots to avoid:

•  Don’t think your partner has to agree with everything you say in order for you to say it. The goal is to talk about your experience, which is about you and does not need to be validated.

•  Don’t get sidetracked by poor conversation etiquette. There’s a good chance that one or both of you will get anxious and resort to one of your counter-productive behaviors. Pause and get yourself under control rather than getting into it about what the other is doing “wrong.”

•  Don’t rush into problem-solving. Again, slow down and take it in steps.

•  Don’t discuss crucial issues in email or text!

•  Avoid thinking there are winners and losers. Keep sight of the fact that this is love, not war.

Keys to success:

•  Pay attention to the point you’re trying to make and articulate it clearly and succinctly.

iStock_000024447619XSmall•  Do your best to be open to your partner’s point of view, whether or not you agree with it.

  Speak from your heart.

•  Address your partner with respect.

•  Be willing to look below the surface to understand what your actions and responses say about you.

•  Talk about one difficult subject at a time. People can get into a “while we’re at it” mentality and call up the other’s every infraction, relevant or otherwise. The goal is to have a conversation with your spouse, not to bury her.

•  No matter how hurt or angry you are, when you speak to the best in the other person, you increase the chances that he or she will respond from that more solid place.

While difficult conversations rarely turn into easy ones, they go decidedly better when we come from our best.

True, they’re uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking and, yes, we can come up with a thousand-and-one reasons to put them off.

The danger, of course, is that there’s always a chance we’ll have waited too long.


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26 thoughts on “How To Talk With Your Spouse About The Things You Don’t Want To Talk About

  1. Excellent. To me, this is sort of the secret of marriage (coming from one whose 26-year marriage failed) — having the courage to talk about the really difficult things. I didn’t, and he never would have, and then it was much too late.


    • Painful and not all that uncommon.

      As a couples therapist, my greatest hope is that the couples I see come in before they’ve waited too long.

      Some who are in dire straits can repair the damage, and sadly, some cannot.

      I appreciate your sharing your experience.



    • I agree.

      Some of the best stuff written about difficult conversations is centered around the workplace.

      In relationships we add an additional emotionally charged element to the already challenging task of managing our differences and conflicts.

      I and everyone can use all the help we can get!


  2. Hopeful and useful help for the nitty gritty – will take to heart – its great to have supporting tools entering the disagreement zone!


  3. I love the idea of approaching difficult conversations without expecting a winner and loser. If couples can truly hear one another out, and discuss issues that are important to both of them, the goal would be find ways to create more of a win-win dynamic. That single mindset change can be so powerful. For people who are interested in learning more about approaches to difficult conversations should check out a book by that same phrase: Difficult Conversations (nothing in it for me — just a great classic in the world of conflict resolution).


  4. Good post Winifried and incredibly ironic as a friend just today was asking about my thoughts and opinion on having an affair. I’m going to be 50 yrs old next year and I have a tremendous amount of life and relationship experience. She’s a younger gal and very self-willed (and hormonal) right now. She wanted me to tell her what to do. Of course, there is no way in heck I would touch that. I told her to be true to herself. We’ll see 🙂


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